AT THE TABLE
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Throughout the weeks of Lent we travelled with Jesus through the book of Luke. This is our last Sunday in the book as we prepare to look at the activities of the church in Acts. Better to say the activities of the Holy Spirit through the church in Acts. Acts begins with Jesus’ departure. The story that we’re looking at this morning is another kind of farewell from Jesus to his followers in Luke. We’ve been speaking throughout these weeks about Jesus meeting with people around tables. With Levi. With Zacchaeus. Today I must stay at your house. We looked at Jesus being revealed to two disciples as he sat at supper with them.
As we leave the book of Luke we look at another supper of course. The Last Supper. The Lord’s Supper. Communion. Paul would later write to the Corinthians about the bread that we break and the cup of blessing which we bless and ask, are they not our sharing, our fellowship, our communion with the body and blood of Christ. Some call it the Mass – the meal. Some call it the Eucharist – the thanksgiving meal after the Greek word for thanks in our passage this morning. Christians may differ on the frequency with which we gather around this table. We may differ in our beliefs about what exactly happens at this table and how Christ is present at it.
The thing is we all gather. In Baptist belief we call it one of the ordinances. One of the things that was ordained by Christ – in other words one of the things that Christ told us to do (the other being to baptize). As we prepare to gather around the table this morning, let us take these moments to look at the events around the first time this meal was celebrated. Let us prepare our hearts to gather around it as Jesus’ invited and beloved guests. Let’s pray before we do.
It’s the day of Unleavened Bread. The feast of the Passover. The feast that looks back on the saving event through which God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. We have this great line from Jesus at the beginning of it – “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” Imagine Jesus looking forward to sharing this table with us. Do we look forward to it in the same way? Do we look forward to accepting Jesus’ invitation? Jesus as gracious host in the truest sense of the word. Our host who is grace. Jesus sets the whole situation up. “Listen,” he says, “ when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘My teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat Passover with my disciples.”’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.” These are the instructions to Peter and John and we’ll come back to them in a little while. Two leaders of the early church preparing the meal. Jesus sets it all up the way any gracious host would. This man who is always the one knocking at the door and desiring to be our guest is the one who the host inviting us to this table.
This table at which we look back. At which we look to our present. At which we look to our future. There is so much going on when we gather at Jesus’ table. Too often I fear we reduce it to only a remembrance of what Jesus has done. It is a remembrance of course. It’s a looking back. The Passover meal of course was a looking back. It was a looking back at how God delivered God’s people. It was also a looking forward to a future fulfillment of promises. It was a looking forward to living in freedom – a meal eaten after everything had been packed up. The whole lamb eaten, nothing taken to go on this journey. It was looking forward to a journey and anticipating the end of that journey.
Jesus is looking back at the Passover meal. In the same way we look back at what Jesus accomplished on the cross. We remember. Too often though we’ve restricted what is going on at this table to remembrance. Jesus also looks ahead. “I will not eat it (or eat it again) until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” There is an immediacy to the kingdom of God. A newness. A newness. There is also an imminence to the kingdom of God. There is also a time coming when Christ returns (no matter what we believe the timeline to be and Christians are all over the place on the timeline). This is a basic tenet of our faith. We look forward to it and we look forward to the time when we will sit around the wedding banquet table with Christ. We look forward with joyful expectation and we continue to celebrate this meal in the meantime. So each time we gather around this table we look back and we look forward.
Part of the looking back involves considering what Christ has done for us. There is an interesting thing that Luke has which no other Gospel writer. A new meaning to second cup. Two cups. A lot of textual variants which you can read about in the footnotes. Let us take the version that our NRSV Bible has. “Then he took a cup and after giving thanks said…” (v17) There are four cups of wine in the Passover meal. The’ve been known to represent thanksgiving, deliverance, blessing praise. After the bread is broken Jesus lifts another cup. What do we do with these two cups?
I suggest we look at the multiple significances of the cup. Two cups reminds us that there is more than one meaning to the cup that we share. We often think of the blood of Christ as an atonement for sin. A mark of forgiveness. A covering. There is much imagery we use around this truth. There is another significance to the cup which Jesus states explicitly. The new covenant in my blood. The new loving agreement. The new covenant that would be written not on tablets of stone but on hearts. The same way that the first covenant was sealed with the blood of a lamb, this covenant would be sealed by the blood of the Lamb. In sharing it we mark our sharing in the covenant.
The table celebrates the present. It affirms our participation in the bread and the cup. Those words of Paul to the church at Corinth – “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not our participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body…” Our sharing in Christ’s body and blood is a communal sharing. We’re affirming our unity in Christ. Jesus gives thanks at the meal, just as we give thanks for his body which was given for us, his blood that was poured out for us. Thanksgiving. Eucharist. We give thanks for the truth that it is in and through Christ that we are invited to this table and to share in fellowship, in communion with God and with one another.
To close I want to look at two things that we are reminded of as Luke frames his story. The first thing to do is to look inwardly. Luke has Jesus speak of the one who betrays him after the supper is shared. This has something to say I think, to those who think they need to guard the sanctity of the table from others. Guarding needs to start with an inward look. Look at how the disciples respond. “Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.” Rather than looking around for betrayal it behooves us to look at ourselves and wonder about how, when, where, we have betrayed Christ, knowing that in Christ there is forgiveness and a gracious welcome to the table. Someone has said that the church is at its best when it stops asking “How could Judas do it?” and instead examines its own record of discipleship. We pray words like these on Good Friday, but they should not just be for Good Friday. We pray that we would be included in Jesus’ prayer “Father; forgive them, for they know not what they do”, whether we sin out of ignorance or intention, that God would have mercy on us and grant us acceptance and peace. May this be the prayer of our hearts as we approach this table, knowing that we make it to a merciful and forgiving God who welcomes one and all, even those who betray him.
The final thing I was us to keep in mind as we approach this table is the conversation that follows. A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Normal right? Who doesn’t want to be the greatest? “The kings of the Gentiles lord is over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. Not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves. Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Remember that it was two great leaders of the early church who were tasked with setting this meal up – Peter and John.
Come to this table not because any goodness or accomplishment of your own gives you the right to come but because you desire mercy and help. A whole new way of being inaugurated at this table. A whole new way of living. Someone has put it like this – “The commitment is not to power, but to service. The commitment is not to separate from those who are ruled, but to identify with them. Elitism is not the Twelve’s call, but service and community among equals.” This is our honour friends, because our honour comes from the one who came among us as one who serves. May these truths became planted ever more firmly in our hearts as we come around this table today, and each day.